Sunday, December 6, 2015

Thankfully Placed Treasure - Calvin Men's Soccer 2015

Well, as the dust starts to settle, I have had some time to think.  I haven’t slept much at all the past few nights.  And as I have thought through some things, I’ve realized it has been a long time since I used this space as an outlet.  As I post this Sunday night, I am about 48 hours post soccer season ending.  It ends this way for all but one, and yet I can’t imagine a coach (or player) gets used to it, or ready for it.  Each year brings about slightly different emotions.  This year has been particularly difficult because of the type of on-field season we have had – because of the ultimate finish that was very much within reach.

And yet, as I sit here 48 hours later I am so incredibly pleased to affirm what we have been talking about the entire time – We are just fine.  Disappointed? Certainly.  But what we have been about with Calvin Men’s Soccer has never, actually, in fact been about championships.  Yes, we would have loved to win, and will continue to work to do just that. But our treasures are stored elsewhere.  The work that Christ has begun in us has very little to do with soccer and isn’t dependent upon any on field results.  Thankfully, I believe we can be made complete and whole without a national championship – because I don’t believe that is the missing piece for anybody. 

Mark Richt, former head football coach at Georgia, said in his last words to the program this week, ‘Life is about people, not rings.  Rings collect dust.’  His wisdom, along with this weekend’s result, have caused me to re evaluate where in fact our treasure lies.  I hope dearly that we can educate our players in good soccer.  We want to pursue excellence in all facets of what we are doing.  But that is just the second facet of our mission.  First, we want to be men that exhibit Christlikeness.  If we aren’t doing that, all of the excellence is simply misplaced. 

And so, while I am gutted for our guys, and disappointed we couldn’t climb the peak, I am so proud of who our young men are, who they are becoming, and of the work the Lord continues to do in, amongst, and through us.  That wins.  Period. I am so incredibly blessed to be associated with these 26 men, our athletic department, and Calvin College as an institution.  What a ride it has been.

So many people have reached out, over the past few weeks in particular, to offer congrats to our program and to me personally.  It is my goal to try and more specifically follow up and thank each of you, but I wanted to, in this space, take a minute to publically thank so many that made this fall so incredible.  (I have bolded the headings, to try and save you some time)

Supporters and Friends:  In the past few weeks, so many have reached out to congratulate us, to congratulate me on some of the accomplishments and honors we have received.  From emails, texts, Facebook posts, and other social media mentions, you have made us the forefront of your own social footprint.  Thank you for taking the time to notice, and thank you for the incredibly kind words and encouragements.  I apologize for not reaching out and thanking you individually.  I will.  We just wanted to try and keep the main thing the main thing until it was time to look back. 

Notre Dame Men’s Soccer:  You guys have allowed me a first rate, up close and personal look inside the best men’s soccer program in the country.  I have learned an incredible amount from you all.  However, even more, I appreciate your friendship.  Additionally, I am incredibly thankful for the group of coaches you bring around the program.  It has been such a pleasure to work with and be supported by coaches like The Brothers Casper, Blake New, Michael Tanke, Kelly, Turf, Quinny, Nate, Mark Bell, and others.

Crown Graphics: A huge thanks to Mark, Rob, and Rap.  Your investment in me over the years both as a coach and as a man are traits we want to invest in our players here.  Thanks, also, for all of the printing and gear you provide for our guys.  Thanks, too, for your willingness and desire to print championship T-shirts.  I hope we can get you that business in the future.

KnightNation: I cannot thank you enough.  Throughout the fall, you made the short trip to Zuidema, came out to Holland, down to Kalamazoo and other locations along the journey.  Most notably, I simply could not believe the number of you that came down to support us in Kansas City.  To those of you that took the fan bus, thank you so much.  Aaron and Jay, thanks for putting this together and supervising it.  I get chills just thinking about the reception our men received as they walked off of the bus at the stadium.  You have supported us through thick and thin.  We always have the most, and the best fans.  Quite simply, you’re the best out there.  Thank you so much.

Calvin College Colleagues: So many of you have offered some form of support to us this year.  To the kinesiology department, in particular, thanks for your high fives in the hallway and your encouragement along the way. 

  • -        A particular thanks to Amber, Kevin, and Bret for listening to my griping and confusion and finding a way to see past it and impart some much needed wisdom despite being more than busy with their own sports, schedules, and families.
  • -       To JR, John, and Tim, thanks for conversations and needed laughs and distractions in times that were particularly stressful this fall. 
  • -       To Jodie and Natalie, we quite literally couldn’t have done any of this without you.  Your tireless work to organize and arrange details for us allowed us to focus chiefly on the soccer tasks at hand. 
  • -       To Justin and Geoff, I cannot thank you enough for all of the things you never get thanks for.  Our field and its condition is absolutely top notch.  You deal with my requests and questions with nothing but smiles, when I know that I drive you both crazy.  Thanks for your support and for all of the incredibly thankless work you have done for us.
  • -       Thanks to Jeff Febus for all of his late nights, score updates, interviews, and passion for Calvin Men’s Soccer.  Thanks, too, for your friendship and partnership in the frustration that is support of the Gunners.
  • -       To Brian, Jim, and Nancy. Thank you for your leadership, your investment, and your encouragement.  You help to create a culture where we have been able to find on field success while maintaining a desire to invest in student-athletes.
  • -       To Aaron Winkle, I don’t think there’s been one person at Calvin that has helped me in the tension of wanting to be competitive, but wanting to do it in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the things that really matter.  Your support, friendship, and mentoring have been one of the best aspects of Calvin. 
  • -       To Ben and Paul, thanks for your understanding and your encouragement.  You two have been all in on us from day one.  You come to games, you ask questions, and you love it when we win.  When others might question my absence, you two have spurred us, spurred me, on like no one else on campus.  I would be fortunate enough to have you as colleagues and supervisors, but am significantly more fortunate to have you as friends. 
  • -       Dr. LeRoy – I can’t imagine there is another college where the school president has made not one, but back-to-back road trips to follow their men’s soccer team.  One the one hand, you have love and supported us with words and tongue.  Your vision for Calvin College and for the complete nature of our pursuits as athletes has enabled, in many ways, all of the facets of success our men have had.  What is more, you have also loved us in action and in truth.  Thank you for modeling both for us. 

Calvin Men’s Soccer Alums:  Quite simply, we are not here without you.  You set the initial standard.  You are the ones that have placed the bar for us to reach.  Our current players are here because you have left a legacy that they want to reach for.  What is more, your continued support has been incredible.  Personally, you have accepted me from day one.  I wasn’t originally one of you, and yet you have chosen to graft me into this incredible family.  I am forever grateful for the trust, the support, and friendship you have shown and continue to show.  We will continue to work tirelessly to lift the crown so many of you should have hoisted and that you have encouraged us to pursue, ourselves.  I want to specifically thank Bert Bowden.  Bert, your investment in this program and of the young men has been other-worldly.  While I have no doubt you have enjoyed some of the wins, it has quite simply never been about that.  Thanks for challenging and charging us to chase after Jesus.  That’s a model we want to continue to be encouraged in.

Calvin Men’s Soccer Parents: Calvin Men’s Soccer fans outnumbered almost every other team this year, ON THE ROAD.  That is a microcosm of the support you offer us – you are all in, period.  You offer our staff countless words of encouragement, follow us any and everywhere in the country, and provide the best meals I eat all year after our home games.  I want to offer a special thanks for Julie Filippini and Dirk Pruis.  Julie was the go between for our team parents and myself.  She was always quick to distribute information and helped organize every facet of team and family interaction.  For anyone who was around the program this year, you know Julie was the glue that kept so many things together.  Dirk was at every game this year taking some incredible photos of our guys.   Being able to go back and look through these has been such a joy to see our men and both the highs and lows throughout the year, recaptured.

Kerri Clausen:  Kerri, I cannot thank you enough for the care and treatment of our men this fall.  At times, you were the only female on a bus of 29 other males.  And yet, you never complained, never told us we were wrong, and put in extra hours to make sure our guys had what they needed.  Your assessments and follow up with our players, their parents, Dr. K, and myself was seamless and allowed us the quickest and best chance to get guys back.  Thank you for everything.

Chatham Guys:  I won’t take the time to list you all, but you have supported our program in spades.  For some it has been constant texts of talk and encouragement.  Others have supported us financially.  You understand the vision of what is trying to be accomplished here, large in part because you have been a part of something similar yourselves. 

Christian, Matt, and Greg: You three are on a different level.  You take my stressful phone calls, come to mid-week games from out of town, and even made a trip to Kansas City.  No matter what is has been you guys have had my back.  I cannot thank you enough for that. 

Chip:  Who would have thought we’d both be in soccer sixteen years ago?  Who would have thought we’d both be in west Michigan?  And yet here we are.  I appreciate your love for the game, but not near as much as your friendship and your mentorship.  Thanks for supporting us despite being on the staff of another team across town.  Thanks, too, for pushing us to be more than just a good soccer team.  Those are the things that have impact well beyond any game or season.

My Family: A link to a blog for thanks doesn’t really cover it.  I am not even playing, and you make trips to away games.  You’re always willing to let me ‘dump my bucket’ and are as excited as anybody when things go well.  But what makes you particularly great is that you aren’t silent when things haven’t always gone well.  You’ve always been there, and you’ve always affirmed my gifts and the use of them for Kingdom purpose.

Brady: I don’t even want to know the number of people that have told you not to come to Calvin.  Being here simply doesn’t make coaching career ladder success for a guy with your resume and your abilities.  Everyone here knows you could be a head coach on your own with no problem.  And yet, because it has never been about those things is why things here have been so great with you.  You are an amazing coach.  You bring soccer knowledge, coaching insights, and clout that has helped our program immensely.  And yet your love for our guys and your friendship are things that far outweigh anything you bring to the soccer field.  I cannot thank you enough for your partnership in this.  Anything we get recognized for doesn’t happen without you.  I don’t know how long we can keep you, but we will do everything we can for as long as we can to keep your voice here.  There is no doubt that no matter what happens you are both a knight and a friend for life.

Our Guys:  Where do I start?  Each and every one of you brings something unique to this program.  Context falls apart at some point, but when I read Paul’s letter to the Philippians, I feel quite similar of you: ‘I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.’  I am not in chains, but I am so grateful for each and every one of you.  I am also fully confident that the good work Christ is completing in you has nothing to do with soccer.  It may provide context, and it may shape part of it, but as I have gotten to know (and continue to get to know) you, I know that what God is working in each one of you is amazing and it is a privilege to watch it play out.  Thanks for buying in.  Thanks for your partnership. Thanks for your lives. 

Kacie:  Authors and speakers always seem to save the best for last.  This isn’t any different.  You deal with more mess than anyone else on this list.  You get the brunt of things.  You get a crabby coach (more than others), and all you do is smile, encourage, and affirm the road that God has me, has us, on.  You know soccer better than I do, and yet you appreciate and value who we are becoming far more than the soccer.  Amidst an incredibly busy fall, you set about basically planning and entire wedding on your own.  You’re crazy.  I love you, cannot tell you how fortunate I am, and how ready I am to get married.  Thanks for who you are, your commitment to us, and your love and support for Calvin Soccer. 

If you’ve made it this far, and aren’t Kacie or my parents, I apologize for taking your time.  I know this isn’t exactly the best way to get all of this out, but like I said, I haven’t been sleeping much and needed an outlet.  I am certain there are people I have missed.  For that I am sorry and want to thank you as well.  There are far too many people that don’t get mentioned in things like this that allow for all of this to happen as well. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Good (Music) Friday

“Lying underneath the stormy skies, know that the son must set to rise…” (Luke 9:22 RSV) (Coldplay)

Disclaimer (you can skip down to “Now” if ya want):

If you haven’t learned by now, I am a big fan of analogies.  It’s really the basis of this entire blog.  I believe, no I am convinced, that the Kingdom of God can and is seen in 2012.  I think too often we are unable to see the Kingdom around us because people don’t use King James Version language or because our cultural settings don’t mirror that of first century Israel. 

I had a professor in college say all the time that ‘All truth is God’s Truth.’  Notice the capitalization.  I have come to absolutely love this saying.  (Safe to say, I love it a whole lot more than the subject of her class.)  As the Creator, Sustainer, and Giver of Truth, as perverted as what surrounds it, as much of a stretch as it may be, ultimately all truth comes under the headship and authority of God.  It’s a hauntingly beautiful concept. 

That reality is what I really enjoy reading, viewing, discussing, and ultimately writing about…

Now, the vast majority of my thoughts regarding the Kingdom in twenty twelve revolve around visual media.  I am a visual learner.  I see things and remember them.  I don’t do as well with auditory media.  That’s clearly why my college transcript isn’t what it could have been.  If only my professors just assigned us a bunch of movies to watch.  Dean’s list, for sure.

This time however, in light of my current life circumstances, the Holiday at hand, and an incredible album by an incredibly talented band, I have been very moved by a song. (It didn’t hurt that the music video is awesome.)

I cannot speak for you but when a new song comes out, I pay little to no attention to the lyrics.  If I like the beat, or it just continues to get radio play, I will slowly start to learn the words – usually without even knowing.  If I continue to listen, maybe even spend the $1.29 to add it to my music library (side note: when the heck did iTunes jack their prices? Not cool, man.) I will begin to contemplate the lyrics.

With Coldplay’s latest hit, Paradise, I have gotten to the point where I am listening to it three to five times a day.  I know every word.

Here is a link to the video, if you haven’t seen or heard it:

As with so much music, we can feel a certain connection and think that the song in fact must have been written for us.

As Chris Martin sings out,

When she was just a girl, she expected the world.  But it flew away from her reach, so she ran away in her sleep, and dreamed of para para paradise…”

I am certain that he is singing about the American twenty-something trying to find their place, their voice, their calling in the world.  No?  That’s not it?

Ah, behold the power of music.

To be honest, I don’t know what the lead singer is hinting at.  Maybe it is about losing the innocence we had as children.  Maybe it’s a song for his wife.  Maybe, it actually does have to do with elephants escaping from the zoo - though I doubt it.

But after listening to the song some 50 times, I finally heard the final line of the final verse accurately.  And as I have thought about it, especially in light of Good Friday, Coldplay’s Paradise has taken on entirely new meaning.

As I hear the lyrics I am more and more convinced this very song could be about Mother Mary on the inaugural Easter weekend almost 2,000 years ago.

Is it a stretch?  Absolutely.  But stay with me.

Here we have a girl that was literally promised the world, at the age of about twelve.  She was told that she was carrying the Son of God.  That her Son would save the world from their sins, from themselves.

She watched him grow up.  She and her husband saw so many awesome things in Him.  This was truly, if not in full, the beginning of Paradise.

But there she sits.  She watches her boy, the One foretold, drag his own death tool through the streets.

She’s watched the guards beat Him.

She’s watched Pilate deliver the verdict.

She’s watched the nails pierce the skin.

As Mary is taking this in, Coldplay’s verses ring in the background…”but it flew away from her reach…”

What happened?  How did we get to this point?  It seemed like just yesterday he came to the rescue of that sweet couple on their wedding day; allowing guests to continue the celebration with wine.  She thinks of all the people ecstatic on the hill as they received their free lunch.  Now she just sees a mob on a hill - taunting and torturing her son.

She thinks back to the days when she coddled him.  She remembers the manger.  She recalls losing him at Temple.  She dreams…of Paradise.

In some way don’t we all?  As I look around and have to struggle and strain to find facets of God’s Kingdom these days, isn’t there a part of us that dreams of Paradise?

As we fast forward to Sunday, amidst figurative stormy skies, while Mary is still grieving there is a buzz amongst her closest peers.  She hears over and over again,

“He. Is. Risen.”

As she begins to think a smile comes across her face.  Her Son's words come to mind, and Coldplay rocks out the final line of the final verse….

And so lying underneath those stormy skies,
She'd say, "Oh, ohohohoh I know the SON must set to rise…

Then Mary would run off, thinking to herself, THIS could be Para, Para, Paradise.

While I don’t think these lyrics were meant to exist as a theological proof, I find this possibility existing within the “All truth is God’s Truth.” 

So maybe you find yourself in stormy skies.  Maybe you’re without work.  It’s possible good health eludes you or someone close to you.  Maybe the future is just scary enough that you don’t think you can go another step, another second.

If nothing else this Good Friday, take comfort that as followers of Christ our daily and ultimately our eventual fate is the same as the very man stationed next to Jesus himself on that stormy night –

We are with Him, in Paradise.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I Work Out

“I know it’s hard.  But don’t get down on yourself.  It’s a process.  And I promise, you are going to love the results!” (Hebrews 12:11 RSV)

I’d like to think that I have some hobbies.  For one, though I don’t get to do it as often as I would like, I really enjoy writing.  Some of it ends up here, some no one will ever read.  Nonetheless, I enjoy it.  I also like to read, drink coffee, smoke the occasional cigar, and go for long walks on the beach. 

Just Kidding.

But seriously, I like those too.

Anyway, I also like to work out.  To be honest, I think it is more I like to have finished working out.  It’s a great discipline and I appreciate the stress release and other gains I receive.

One of the additional benefits is getting to spend time with people.  Instead of sitting stuffing our faces, working out with someone allows me to have a similar conversation and create a net physical gain.  I like to call that a win…win.

Being at home allows me the chance to workout with my parents.  A few times a week my dad and I will do some sort of lift/cardio at the gym.  On Saturdays, Mom joins and we get some coffee afterward.  Then, we go to Home Depot, only if there’s enough time.  Ok, we don’t do the last one.

More recently, my mom has asked me to workout with her in the mornings and show her some lifts a few times a week.  I am by no means an expert, but I would like to think I could offer a thing or two.

If you have ever lifted, you know that starting (or getting back into it) creates some serious soreness the following few days, maybe even weeks.  Not deterred, Nance has done an awesome job of keeping up the regime.

Recently however, we ran into a bit of a problem.

While lifting, it was clear ‘it’ wasn’t present.  I don’t know what ‘it’ is, but you know what I’m talking about.  The thing that motivates us, drives us, keeps us going.  Gatorade wants you to think you can just “drink it.” And Nike thinks that if you just wear their clothes you are able to just “do it.” 

That’s crap.

Some days we just don’t have the same energy, attitude, perseverance, or output to get the ideal effort done.  I think those days then reveal us most aptly.  Are we willing to push through?  How do we see ourselves in these moments?  How do we respond?

In this particular workout, Nance was struggling with some of the lifts.  Her arms were tired and sore.  She wasn’t able to give the output she most wanted.  At one point, she finished a set and said, “I am terrible. What a waste of time.”

To be honest, this made me so mad!

I couldn’t exactly put my finger on why, but I borderline scolded her.  I told her that she isn’t allowed to talk like that and that if she gave all that she had, whatever it was, it would be acceptable.

I think when we try to make a change, we want to see the results right away.  And when we don’t we get really discouraged; and oftentimes go back to the way things used to be.

As I have continued to think about that interaction with my Mom, I have only begun to wonder what God thinks.  Is it possible that he is training me for something?  That on some days, the energy just isn’t there.

That I just don’t have “it.”

In these moments, either in lack of obedience, laziness, or fill in the blank, I think I am too quick to give up and respond, “I am terrible.  What a waste of time.”  I see myself giving up too easily; yes on my own person, but more importantly on the being that God is shaping.

And while I am not necessarily able to see or understand where he is taking me, what he is shaping me for, shouldn’t I trust the one who knows best; who knows me best?

Even though we live in a world that demands results, I think God very much cares about the process.  And while he doesn’t love to see us stumble and fall, I think he loves it when we look to him to pick us up; to dust us off and help us regain sight of where we are headed. 

It’s not an easy process, but when it’s all said and done, our trainer’s sculpting likens us more and more to himself; an image we have in part, but are waiting to realize fully.

Until then, it is our job to listen to His voice and to carefully carry out the exact exercises He puts before us; in spite of whether or not we feel we have ‘it.’

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Meal Time

“Bring what you have there; nothing more, nothing less.  I just want to eat with you.” (John 21:10/12 RSV)

Well, tonight in about one hour (from when I started this, anyway) is the Parenthood season finale.  I have written about the show in this blog before, but I honestly could do 20-30 entries from the show alone.  It’s brilliant.  If you haven’t watched it, do yourself a favor and check it out.  If you have Netflix, you can currently see seasons 1 and 2.  What a deal, right?!

How do I know that you ask?  Well, because I have been watching them on Netflix for the past several weeks.  I know, I know.  Pathetic.  Add it to the list, folks.

The basic plot is a large extended family that all lives in a very close proximity and does basically everything together.  The four Children (Adam, Sarah, Crosby, and Julia) all get along pretty well and are clearly different from one another.  Fast forward past the descriptions if you already know (or don't care)…

Adam is the older brother.  He has a good job, good family, and more or less keeps all the siblings together.

Sarah is kinda a wreck.  Divorced from an addict, she lives back with her parents with her two (sometimes troublesome) children.

Crosby is the wandering brother that can’t seem to stay committed to anything.

Julia is the feminist, driven lawyer that is very controlling.

In looking back at some of the old episodes (I hadn’t seen most of them before) I loved the pilot.  I always love the pilot.  In any good show it sets an incredible stage.  It introduces the characters, lets us into their lives, and gives us just enough of a taste for what might come up.  In any good story we are made to feel a part of it.  A pilot then, suffices as an introduction; a first impression.

As Adam is running through the neighborhood, a number of problems come his way.  His dad wants his attention, his wife is wondering where he is and his sister, Sarah, is calling him on the phone.

As he answers we learn that Sarah is in Fresno.  She is trying to pack up her life.  She’s decided to move with her children back in with her parents.  She’s leaving her job, her ex husband, her kids' comfort zones, everything!

Have you ever done this, or felt like you have?  Maybe it was leaving home to go to College.  Maybe it has been a move from a job.  Maybe it has been an identical situation.

If you know me, you know I have.

I’ve moved home not once, but twice.  Indefinitely each time.  Talk about a charmer for the ladies.

On the other end, I have left home-with no real idea what was waiting for me on the other end.

I cannot definitively speak for you, but I think we have all been in a Sarah Braverman type of situation before.  It's not an easy place to be.  No promise is offered and we are left running through all of the other possibilities in our head.

As Sarah starts talking to her older brother, she lists all of the reasons why moving back is a terrible idea.  Sound like you?  I’ve certainly been there.

Adam reassures her it will all be fine--that this is a very good decision; the right decision by telling her, “If it’s not good, you can blame me.”

“Good.  That’s what I wanted!”, Sarah snaps back.

Isn’t that us?!?! 

Don’t we want someone to blame if everything goes wrong?  If our house of cards topples to the ground, we want to point the finger at someone else!

Adam himself knows he’s lying.  Sarah ultimately knows this is her decision.  Blame rests nowhere but on her.  Too often I find myself figuratively, and literally praying this to God.  I say, just fill in ‘much required’, God.  If I just knew what you specifically wanted, I would do it.  Just show it to me!

Sound like you at all?

I’m not sure in my prayer it’s an earnest desire to know exactly what God wants.  If I am honest, I think it is my desire to use God as a scapegoat. 

All the while I really think God sees the map of our lives much like a nice dinner. My friend Joe shared this with me. In trying to keep the analogy simple, if we were to go to dinner with God I don’t think he would care what we order.  He wouldn’t really care if we got the chicken, the steak, some pasta, or a veggie dish.  I think ultimately he just want to spend some time enjoying the company of his kid.

I like that.

In sharing many meals with my parents over the years, (ok and now, again…) they have never demanded I order something specific off of the menu.  They just love to be with me; to spend time getting to know me, and me them.  See I don’t think our decisions are hit or miss.  I ultimately think God just wants to be with his children.

Sarah, then, like ourselves has to make the decision.  Is just being together enough?  Is the adventure valuable in and of itself?  

And while I won’t answer what happens with Sarah and Adam, the undecided future for us looks positive. Whatever is next; whether it’s the fish or the hamburger, we have to be sure the second Adam (1 Corinthians 10:45) is the one eating with us.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Swimming Lessons

“Because anyone who wants to come to God has to believe that they can jump, and he will catch them.  He won’t let them drown.  He will reward their efforts.” (Hebrews 11:6 RSV)

By all accounts it has been a very mild Chicago winter.  With that said, I am ready for it to be over.  I was outside with my dad the other night grilling and we both agreed how great summer is in Chicago, and how ready we were for it to get here.  I love all things summer.  I love warm weather, cook outs, outdoor activities, and the pool. 

I really love the pool.

Maybe it’s because my dad was a swimmer.  Others suggest it is because I am part fish.  Anyone who knows me will affirm how much I love to swim.  Spending winters in Chicago put a damper on that. 

Now, while it’s not the same, there are these things they invented called indoor pools.  While they aren’t the same, they help addicts like myself get through the long winters.

A few weeks ago when I was in Atlanta for my friend’s wedding, I found myself in the hotel pool playing around with all of his cousins.  All under the age of 6, and less than 70 lbs, more importantly, I made some instant friends as I tossed and flipped kids through the air while happy parents sat on the deck happy it wasn’t them getting splashed or dunked under water.

I laughed as I left for the afternoon when 3 different parents half jokingly, but fully seriously said, “Same time tomorrow!”

The next day I was unable to get to the pool.  I had to get a workout in before all of the wedding festivities.  The pool was right next to the workout area (I refuse to call it a gym) and I could look into the poor Dad that took my place.  This time it was him getting dragged under and asked to launch kids as far as he possibly could. 

Meanwhile, on one of the sides of the pool, another Dad was working with his young kids, trying to get him to jump into the pool.  You’ve seen it before, right?  Dad is about 2 feet away begging his son to jump to him.  The boy reaches, and reaches, and reaches some more. 

I think that my relationship with God mirrors this.

So often I find myself standing at the edge.  I reach and I reach and I reach.  All I want God to do is grab me and place me somewhere safe.

But he doesn’t do that.

It would rob me of the possible joy.

I think he stands there, arms wide open and invites me into his arms.  Not unlike Peter I see the arms.  I see the water.





And ultimately the choice is up to me.  The amount of trust required this time might be more than in the past.  Dad might be standing a bit farther from the ledge than last time.  He wants to increase my trust, but it doesn’t come without risk.  He hasn’t let me drown to this point, but I haven’t jumped this far yet. 

You know exactly what I am talking about.  What part of the deep end is God asking us to dive into?





It is something, isn’t it?

For this young kid it’s literally about jumping into the pool.  He is almost crying he wants his dad to just reach out and grab him.

But Dad is relentless.

His boy is going to have to jump.

As I watch the young boy finally give in and jump towards Dad, he splashes the water and Dad is right there to grab him.  I see a huge smile on his face and echoes of laughter – both from father and son.

But similarly to our relationship with God, this father and son only enjoy the moment for a second before Dad props his son back up on the ledge.

This time however, not unlike our father, Dad takes a step back. His boy is going to have to grow his faith in him; only to find more joy after the leap.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Veggie (Fairy)Tales

"Don't think you're gonna get fit by pretending to be healthy.  Actually live in such a way that promotes good health." - James 1:22 (RSV)

I really, really, really like to eat.  It’s a borderline love affair.  Do you ever have the feeling where you are sitting at a meal and though you are full, you continue to eat just because it tastes good.  Yeah, We’ve all been there. 

The reality is nowadays I would say I tend to eat healthier than most of my single male counterparts.  However, this does not stop me from the pursuit of the delicious calorie free ice cream.  (Hey, we can all dream, right?)

When I am eating with a group, particularly when I am trying to get in better shape, or trying to lose a few lbs, everyone will know that I am eating bird like and that no wasted calories can be taken in.  It is just salad, sans dressing of course, lean chicken, fruits, and veggies for this guy. 

I like having that stereotype about me.

I like people thinking that I am healthy.

I like that people think I’m disciplined.

But here’s the problem…When no one is looking; or awake, I have a tendency to find the bag of chips, the ice cream carton, or open late fast food line. 

There it is, I said it.

More often than not I find a way to sneak in indulgences without anyone knowing.  After all, I can’t have people think I am not as fit as I want them to.

Equally, if I am gut-level honest, I want people to think that I know Jesus.  Like eating healthy, more often than not I am quite disciplined in my spiritual disciplines.  I like to read lots of different Christian books.  I even listen to sermons on Moody Radio!  (Another sign of how old I am getting?  Don’t answer that.)

But other times, I am incredible at pretending I know Jesus.  I reference things I have read or things I have heard other people say.

On the one hand, the scriptures are quite clear: enjoy the applause you get because that’s all that is coming.

Paul goes on noting that knowledge only puffs up, while love builds up.  I love that idea.  I liken it to healthy eating.  Public displays of discipline make ourselves look amazing.  But it’s the moments in front of the pantry when everyone else goes to bed that really matter.

On the other hand, the reality is absolutely no one will know.

See if I continue to say that I am eating well but I show up a few weeks later plus about 10 pounds, it’s pretty clear that I am lying.  There is no way around that.

The same cannot be said of spiritual discipline.

As long as I read a chapter here and there, brush up on a recent Christianity today, eat my spiritual vegetables ‘once in a while’ publicly, everyone will think I am exceptionally healthy.

The only problem is, I am completely dying on the inside.

The Bible talks about producing fruit – that being the measure of a life a part of Christ.  Just like in the produce world, the proof is in the tasting.  At my house, directly across from where I type this my mother has a basket of pears.  They are well colored, shaped, and sized; incredibly pleasing to the eye.  Take a bite and you risk losing a tooth in the wood.

Spiritual fruit is no different.  I went to a Christian school; two of them actually.  I can produce fruit finer looking than most.  But just like with David, we serve a God who looks at the heart. 

This can either be the most beautiful music to our ears,


 the most condemning news for our souls.

In the end, I need to consume as much of the good stuff that I can.  Just like healthy things in our day-to-day lives (see also: Daniel), spiritual disciplines produce works in our life that bring glory to, and honor God; regardless whether other people observe them.  Additionally, these are the very things that draw me closer to the God who loves and knows me best. 

Because in the end, that late night poor decision only leaves me disappointed and with a stomach ache the next morning anyway.

Monday, January 30, 2012

American Exile

“You think you know the way you’re going, but I promise, I’ll show you the way.  I know what’s best.” –Proverbs 16:9 (RSV)

This past weekend I had the opportunity to be in Atlanta for the wedding of two very good friends of mine.  While it was so great to be there to support them and be a part of their nuptials, I was also there for a selfish reason.

Because my friends met in Charlotte, a good number of both the wedding party and the invitees were members of the same community as I was back in North Carolina.  When I left back in November it wasn’t so much that I really wanted to, it was more that is was just time for me to move on.

This was in many ways a reunion for me.

I had the opportunity to catch up, laugh, exchange stories, dance, eat, celebrate, and many other things with an incredible group of people for a few days.  It was fantastic.  For a brief moment, I had really regretted my decision to leave Charlotte.  But as the weekend when on, I remembered why I had to leave.

I didn’t have a real job.

I wasn’t married.

I didn’t know what the future held for me here.

In many ways, for being 26 years old with a college degree, I find myself living in exile.  I know the word isn’t used a whole lot in American sub cultures in 2012, but I think for myself and maybe some of you that read this it’s an appropriate term.

Don’t hear me wrong; it’s not a spiritual exile.  I don’t see myself living directly opposed to godly living or running away from Nineveh.  But I still feel like I find myself in a state of being barred from.  Maybe it’s simply socially.  There’s a good chance it’s in my head.  But I don’t feel crazy saying I feel like I am in an American Exile of sorts. 

I have come to believe that often God’s timing is a lot more difficult than our own. 

How often in the Scriptures do we see the people of God planning ahead only to see God hold them back; for their own protection?

We see Israel constantly asking for things, suggesting that if they were to just have it: land, an earthly king, a prophet, etc, they would be the people God desired. 

We see the “sons of Thunder” asking to sit at the left and right of Jesus in his glory. 

Characters have been making plans only to see God alter them since the beginning of time!

Yet throughout that we are called to be faithful to God and what He is doing in our lives; no matter where we are.  But we can be rest assured God wouldn’t ask of us what He hasn’t already done himself.

He has been nothing but faithful to me; always. 

We might see what we perceive as God’s faithfulness in moments of success; not unlike my friends' matrimony.  But it cannot be limited to times as these.

During the ceremony, the pastor looked at me and asked, “May I have the rings?”

I reached with my right hand into my left chest pocket to grab my friends' wedding rings.  As I pulled them out and handed them to the pastor, I noticed the reflection off of the ring on my right middle finger.

It’s a silver ring my parents got for me last summer in Israel.  Engraved in Hebrew, the ring reads, "one ring, to rule them all."  No, I'm kidding, it actually says, 

“I know the plans I have for you”

You know the verse.  It’s a graduation classic in Christian education.  It’s the uplifting verse after a breakup or pink slip.  We love to throw it around and encourage fellow believers in times of trouble.

Here’s the thing: do we know the context of that verse?  As Jeremiah is telling this to the Israelites, they are in the midst of their own literal exile!  What kind of prospering is this?! What kind of life notes this as a good future?!

Yet as we break down the words, we hear a gentle voice calm us…

“I know the plans for you.  I know that I know, that I know the plans I have for you.”

“They are good plans.  I can’t tell you what they all entail, but I promise you, they are good.”

“I have been faithful since day 1, and I have brought you this far.  I'm not going anywhere now.”

And so as I extended my hand to offer the rings I was overjoyed with what was taking place.  I was certainly seeing God in the best earthly example of his relationship with the church.  I was looking at my teary eyed friends with ear-to-ear smiles on their faces as they committed their lives to each other.  But I was equally reminded that God is in control.  Despite feeling like I’m in exile, I have to believe he knows, he cares, and he has a plan. 

And I can assure you that as I am not the only person to feel this way, I am not by any means the only person God is waiting to reveal his plan to. 

Maybe I should start selling rings with Hebrew inscriptions.